Big Hearts: Everybody Wins With Role Model Program

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You don't have to be around them very long to see that big brother David and little brother Daniel enjoy one another's company.

David is local photographer David Beckstead. Daniel is a seventh-grader growing up without a father.

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David Beckstead, a local photographer, and little brother Daniel were matched in part because they like to clown around. "I don't have a father, and I had a lot of guys who got into my life and I knew how important that was," Beckstead said when asked why he became a big brother.

The same is true of teacher and big sister Bonnie Reiter and her little sister Kaila, a seventh-grader being raised by her grandparents.

Their relationships began two years ago when they were brought together through Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gila County, an agency that matches adult volunteers with children in need of positive role models. Currently there are 19 active big brothers and big sisters in the Rim country, and the agency says it has a critical need for more -- especially big brothers.

Beckstead explains why he does it.

"I don't have a father, and I had a lot of guys who got into my life and I knew how important that was," he said.

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Bonnie Reiter and little sister Kaila make Chinese food. It's not one of her favorites, Kaila said, but she likes the picture because she looks taller than she is.

The two most influential were his grandfather and Mark, his big brother when he was growing up in Phoenix.

"I decided it was time for me to give something back," Beckstead said.

But don't think for a minute that he doesn't get just as much in return.

"I'm totally a big kid," Beckstead said. "But I don't have time to have my own, so I thought it would be great to have someone like Daniel to hang out with and impart some of my grandfather's stuff and Mark's too. Daniel's awesome and we've done some cool stuff together."

Stuff like camping, hiking, and going to movies.

"We just hang out," Daniel said.

"What about the big one," Beckstead reminded him.

"Oh yeah, he took me to California to go to Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, and to finally see the ocean," Daniel said.

"He'd never been on a plane before and never been out of Arizona before," Beckstead added. "And he earned his own money for it."

Daniel and Beckstead were matched based on their interests and personalities, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Gila County Director Susan Williams explained.

"We want to make sure they have things in common right off the bat," Williams said. "We do an hour-and-a-half interview and I'll do the pre-matching.

"Then I call the volunteer and the parents and if everybody is agreeable we meet. If that meeting goes well, we go ahead and do the match."

Besides sharing an interest in outdoor activities, Daniel and Beckstead are both friendly and even-tempered, Williams explained.

"We both like to horse around and play," Beckstead said. "We're always punching each other and messing around."

And there's something else they have in common.

"I like having him around a lot because I don't have a dad either," Daniel said. "So I just call him if I'm bored and we'll just hang out."

"I like that a lot," Beckstead said. "I wanted a relationship where he could call me anytime -- when he's bored, when he's sad. Even if I couldn't do anything with him that day, I'd still want him to give me a call.

"It means a lot to me that he would call, being a kid. A lot of kids just don't."

Another one who calls is Reiter's little sister, Kaila.

"I think she's really cool because I can talk to her like she's a mom, but without the thing of, ‘Oh no, what if she finds out,'" Kaila said. "One time I called her for no reason, so we just sat and talked."

When they're together, Kaila and Reiter cook, play tennis, play video games, go bowling, shopping, visit the humane society and the library. They also enjoy doing arts and crafts together.

"We make cards for people," Kaila said. "She's helped me a lot."

Like Beckstead, Reiter gets as much out of the relationship as their "littles" do.

"I'm a teacher, so I've always been involved with kids, and I love being with Kaila because I don't have any kids of my own. She's fun to be with."

Children from 6 to 14 years of age are eligible for the program. Those accepted usually are in single-parent relationships.

"Typically families hear about us from the newspaper or radio, or a lot of times a little sister like Kaila has a friend, and she tells her friend and she tells her parents," Williams said. "But also teachers and counselors are sometimes aware of a family situation."

Typically a lot more boys than girls end up in the program, and that is the case in the Rim country, Williams said.

"We especially are in need of big brothers," she said. Twelve little brothers now are waiting for a "big."

Volunteers are asked to do a minimum of two outings a month with their "littles," and to commit to the program for six months.

"Usually, once the six months are up things are going well and most continue," Williams said.

Once a "little" turns 18, the relationship ends as far as Big Brothers Big Sisters is concerned. "At that point, they can become ‘bigs' themselves, and a lot of them do," Williams said. "But a lot of times those original relationships go on for a long time."

In Beckstead's case, it's been a lifetime. In fact, Mark just moved to Payson from Wisconsin so he could be closer to the man he befriended in 1976.

"We see each other every couple weeks," Beckstead said. "We hang out and do some stuff."

Daniel can see a similar outcome.

"Maybe when I grow up, I'll be his big brother," he said, nodding toward his "big."

"I'm going to probably need that," Beckstead replied.

Big Brothers Big Sisters

With more than 508 agencies serving 200,000 children nationwide, Big Brothers Big Sisters is the world's largest program of one-to-one mentoring. The Gila County office is a satellite of the Valley chapter, but has its own budget and board of directors.

Volunteers, who must be at least 18, go through an extensive screening process that includes fingerprinting. Then they are matched with children based on such compatibility factors as personality, mutual interests and the child's needs.

For more information or to volunteer, call Susan Williams at (928) 468-8375.

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